Welcome to the jungle
As Amazon prepares for its highest-profile attempt at delivering over-the-top (OTT) sport there have been some worrying sounds emanating from its servers.
Reports have emerged in the British press over the past week that the digital giant is concerned over its ability to cope with the demands of streaming multiple live Premier League matches at once. In addition, it is keen to avoid prominent slip-ups during marquee games like the Merseyside Derby between Liverpool and Everton on Wednesday.
According to the Telegraph, Amazon held talks with UK free-to-air network Channel 4 regarding an emergency carriage deal for that match but online piracy rules proved a ‘stumbling block’. Apparently, Jeff Bezos and co have also sought deals with telecommunications firms to secure extra bandwidth to underpin its network.
It is worth asking why this was not done sooner, and why Amazon Prime Video’s coverage has not been more widely promoted in the early part of the English soccer season. That all might have something to do with its intentions for this initial spate of games.
Amazon has again used recent winter sales events to flog discount Fire TV Sticks and Alexa-powered speakers so perhaps, as it told the Telegraph, it is not worried. Many of its device sales and video activities are partly a means of getting customers, and their data, into the Everything Store, and the timing of these Premier League fixtures should encourage uptake of Prime memberships right before the busy Christmas delivery period.
Nonetheless, with just ten games to follow for this season after this week’s debut outing, the chance for Amazon to recover any reputational damage from an awkward start will be very limited. And after losing another would-be chief executive in troubling circumstances, the Premier League really needs this first dip into the world of digital broadcasting to go off without a hitch.
David Pemsel’s shock resignation as Premier League chief executive, several weeks before he was even due to take on the role, has pre-empted a season of leadership uncertainty for European soccer’s major leagues. La Liga president Javier Tebas is seeking a fresh mandate from his clubs in the face of upcoming TV negotiations, a new Spanish government and a row with the national federation. Tebas has resigned almost a year ahead of the end of his current term but will stand for re-election.
In Italy, the picture is even hazier. Serie A is now operating under the emergency leadership of Mario Cicala, the head of the national soccer federation’s watchdog committee, after its presidential race collapsed when no candidate was able to receive the necessary 14 of 20 votes from member clubs.
Former president Gaetano Micciche resigned in an investigation into his own election, having himself replaced a stand-in leader in Italian Olympic Committee president Giovanni Malago. This has all come amid several delays to a decision on Serie A’s next domestic broadcast rights deal, with a €1.3 billion offer on the table from Spain’s Mediapro agency.
From Russia with love
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) executive committee is expected to push for a four-year global ban from organised sport for Russia when it gathers in Lausanne, Switzerland on Monday. The meeting will consider recommendations from WADA’s own compliance review committee (CRC) after investigations found positive tests had been deleted from a database they took from a Moscow laboratory in January.
That meeting has been moved to the Olympic capital from Paris due to local transport strikes but it is the scheduling of another, later event that serves as a reminder of how much influence Russia and Russian money retains in international federation circles.
SportAccord, the worldwide conference for sports federations, hosts and businesses and a partner of the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) umbrella body, confirmed last week that it will stage its May 2021 edition in the Russian city of Ekaterinburg.
Anyone who has been anywhere near a health foods shop in the last 18 months will have encountered CBD – or cannabidiol, the major non-psychoactive agent in marijuana. Promising relief from chronic pain and anxiety in a range of tablets, creams and even lattes, CBD treatments combine a countercultural heritage with the Holland & Barrett seal of approval.
In the US, the huge interest in CBD has begun to trickle into sports sponsorship through 2019, with companies signing with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), USA Triathlon, and teams in the Indy 500. The big leagues are currently holding out, however, and according to SportsBusiness Journal, the sponsors’ paradise of Nascar will also be off-limits for CBD for the time being.
The big boys have some remaining cause for conservatism – promoting CBD in the US still comes with state-by-state complications, while the Food and Drug Authority was pushed to note last week that it had approved just one product so far among the many available.
Been around the world
With Uefa Euro 2020 taking place across 12 European cities next summer, multi-site sporting events will be a hot topic of discussion in the months ahead. Few, though, are likely to be as ambitious as the reported Paris 2024 preference for Olympic surfing.
According to the AFP, the local organisers are pushing to stage the competition among the epic waves of Teahupo’o, off the shores of the French Polynesian island of Tahiti, rather than the French locations of Hossegor-Seignosse-Capbreton, Biarritz, Lacanau and La Torche (Finistère).
International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach said in the summer that he would “prefer the option that is closest to the centre of the Games” and Tahiti, a 23-hour schlep from Paris, could hardly be further away. But if it did go ahead, the project could be a glimpse at a more globalised Olympic project for future editions.
Pay-TV state of play statistics of the week
Media analyst MoffettNathenson has estimated that regular sports viewers make up 60 per cent of current pay-TV subscribers in the US, making them “the most entrenched” in that ecosystem, and that 40 per cent of the pay-TV market is at risk over the next five years. In a letter to clients, senior research analyst Michael Nathanson wrote: ‘The video market is in full disruption and this year could be the cord-cutting tipping point.’
Meanwhile, research from the UK’s Ampere Analysis indicates that Netflix now has access to over 300 million homes with pay-TV subscriptions – a little under half the pay-TV market outside China – thanks to carriage deals with the likes of Sky and Canal+. Netflix, which has a market-leading 158 million subscribers worldwide for its streaming service, has been looking to such distribution partnerships as high-powered new entrants like Disney have hovered over the OTT space.
Kiplingesque perspective of the week
There was a scam. Our offers were better in both rounds.
Mediapro chief executive Jaume Roures, speaking to sports daily L’Equipe, does not take well to news of a €375 million a year deal taking Uefa Champions League soccer to Canal+ and BeIN Sports in France.
What should I be reading on SportsPro this week?
Chris Kermode’s six-year tenure as executive chairman and president of men’s tennis’ ATP is into its final weeks. He reflects on a period of commercial growth, innovation, and some political tension and tells Michael Long that he is “proud of every decision” he has made since taking up the role in 2014.
As one chapter ends, another begins: Fran Connolly is a few weeks into her tenure as chief executive of England Netball. She talks to Sam Carp about replacing the highly regarded Joanna Adams, building on recent successes and the Netball World Cup, and the future of women’s sport in the UK.
The global climate crisis is likely to be the single most important issue affecting anyone in the next decade and addressing it will require some radical thinking. In the latest edition of The Big Idea, Eoin Connolly looks at how circular economy concepts can be incorporated throughout the industry to reduce waste, improve efficiency and make sport a more positive environmental actor.
The Tokyo Olympics will be the biggest sporting event of 2020 and will showcase the gold standard of sports broadcasting. SportsPro looks inside US network NBC’s long-gestating plans for the Games.